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4. The Anger of the Magicians



Between the rocky hills, an old track led to the city and the sea, but it was rarely traveled. For a hundred years or longer, men had avoided this road, since, even at the brightest hour of day, they declared, you might hear a monster howling there in the rock beneath your feet, and who knew but that sometime it might not get out and eat you? The mighty magician, however, he of the black and green silk coat and the ruby ring the size of a gazelles eye, he, over whose head a menial held a fringed parasol as he rode in an open carriage drawn by six black horses from whose bridles dripped pearlshe was not daunted in the least by tales of howlings and eatings. Even the servants of the magician laughed.

This is the Great Kaschak, they said. Suppose there is some monster concealed under the road. Suppose it emerges. Then you may suppose Kaschak will eat it!

So the magician set out. He had a mind to reach the city and its seaport before sunset, and had chosen the track for its swiftness. He had come to this land to work a healing miracle for a kings eldest son, and now, this miracle performed, he wished to take ship for his home.

The old track was dusty and here and there stones had fallen. The magician cleared the stones away with a momentous word or two that dissolved them in smoke. An hour after noon, the magicians party came to a dry well.

It is time the horses were watered, said Kaschak. He struck the side of the hill and a fountain burst from it and formed a poo1 for the horses to drink at. Just then, from the mouth of the dry well, there rose a mournful ululation. The servants of the magician showed no fear, for they trusted his powers. Kaschak himself went to the well, and leaned there to listen. Soon enough the fearsome noise came again.

I believe I should like to see this creature, said Kaschak. He called for an unlit torch, and blew on it and it took fire. Then he lowered it some way into the well and left it suspended in mid-air while he peered down through a magic spyglass to see what was to be seen. Ah, said the magician presently, as I thought. A human translated by the fabulous method of a demon into a curious shape. (The glass revealed such information.)

Kaschak snapped his fingers and sparks flew from them. The sparks spun about and formed a net which poured itself down the well.

A vile clamour was heard, a scraping of hoofs, a scrabbling of teeth, a slithering smack, a slavering bark. Up from the head of the well drifted the torch, and went out. Next came the sparky net with, rolled and tangled and kicking and writhing inside it, an awful beast.

The front half of the beast was a boar, the back half a giant lizards tail. Its head was a wolfs.

It floundered and bellowed and howled, swiveling its eyes and gnashing its lupine jaws. It had wandered for a century or a little longer through the crevices and caves that undermined the hills. It could not die, sealed forever within the scabbard of a demons whim. Blows had not slain it, nor the fall into the gully; the burning straw had scorched and roused it, but not killed. For sure, it had forgotten its beginning, that once it had been a man, handsome, virile and young, who had lain down upon the body of his beloved bride to slumber, and woken imprisoned in the hellish form the Drin had made at Azhrarns direction. Bisunehs lover, still trapped in misery, while she had been dust for eight decades or more.

Kaschak saw all this, or sufficient of it. He was not a man of pity, but neither was he unjust. As the foul, stinking horror tumbled and groaned in the sorcerous net, Kaschak sent his servants hither and thither, to fetch this chalk and that powder, to take this amulet from the chest and lay that one back. In the middle of the afternoon, Kaschak began his spell. It was not concluded till the sun itself began to tire and sink down upon its distant bed of blue hills. The thing in the net had undergone many transformations and had lamented beneath them. Now, as the red light left the sky, a wrinkling movement went over the back of the beast. As a serpent crawls from its expended skin, so something now crawled from the wrinkled, three-fold hide.

It was a man who fell exhausted at Kaschaks feet. A man no longer with any appearance of youth, without a vestige of good looks or vitality in him. But still, a man.

He could not remember his name, had forgotten it as he had forgotten his earlier life. He had a vague memory of being cheated, cruelly deprived of joy without even an omen to prepare him. His recollections were merely of dark dripping underpasses, echoing caverns bursting with his sub-human cries, filthy holes where he had hidden from meaningless terrors. Kaschak gave him food, wine in a vessel of yellow jade.

You shall serve me two years to repay my trouble. I will call you Qebbathe much-spoken-offor so you have been in these parts.

Qebba did not argue, with the employment, with the name. His face was the grey bony face of a man dying of hunger who can never be filled. He regained human speech only slowly. He consented to ride on the footboard of Kaschaks carriage. Sometimes, forgetting, his tongue would loll and his eyes roll frightfully. Those who glimpsed him when the carriage passed through the city thought him a lunatic, and marveled as to why he should accompany the Great Kaschak.

It was late, but the ship had stayed for the magician, seeing he was who he was. On the quay, Kaschak made an obscure gesturing. The fine carriage became the size of a walnut; he put it in his pocket. The six black horses, a-drip with pearls, became six pretty, white-spotted black beetles. He put them in a comfortable box and, flanked by his servants, cheered by the astonished and captivated crowd, he went aboard, and Qebba with him.

The seas were calm, with a following wind. Two days from shore they came to an island, a forbidding place of black obsidian cliffs that stretched, seemingly without relief or break, into the sky. Here the ships boat nosed on to a gravel beach, and the magician and his servants were put ashore. This gaunt outpost was no less than Kaschaks home.

The ship sailed on like a scarlet gull. Kaschak struck the impervious obsidian wall of the cliff, and a huge doorway, invisible before, folded open to let them through, grinding shut behind them. Beyond the cliff wall, the island was not as it had appearedbarren and bleakbut one glamorous garden of curious sort.

Rose trees grew in the magicians garden, tall as tall pines. Their blooms were of the palest green and the most transparent purple. Pink willow trees leaned beside the rosy pools that tasted of wine. On the blue lawns lions gambolledthey were the color of fresh cream with hyacinth manesthey ran to the magician and playfully licked his hands like dogs. Owls with round emerald eyes sang melodiously as young girls.

The magicians house was of green porcelain, with a roof of varicolored glass to let in the light. An avenue of black trees with fruit of pure gold led to the doorway.

Qebba stared about him, bemused by the garden as by all that had happened to him.

A word of warning, said Kaschak. In my service you will necessarily learn some magic. Do not seek to learn too much or use carelessly what you come to know. Above all, never pluck the golden fruit of these trees.

The magicians house was no less a wonder than the garden. Diverse beams of color from the glass roof above dyed the rooms, shining on many items of precious metal. A huge water-clock of brass and silver, and in the shape of a galleon, told the hours. At dusk the lamps mysteriously lit themselves.

In a hidden chamber, behind two great doors of black lacquer, the magician practiced his arts. The handles of the doors were in the form of two hands of white jade; to open the doors one must needs clasp these hands in ones own, and twist them. This Qebba noticed the most trusted of Kaschaks servants do on particular occasions, when they were summoned to aid in some experiment. But Qebba himself was not admitted. He did not think to enter the room unasked, but it was reputed to be an awesome place.

Qebbas tasks were strange. Watch for a large bird in the noon sky. Count how many times it circled the magicians house before flying away and write the number on parchment. Go to the twelfth pool, pluck a reed, crush it in a mortar, spread the paste of it on the doorposts of the house. Every ten days, Qebba was told to climb up on the roof and polish the glass thereit must be very thick for it did not crack beneath his feet. Or he would drive the lions, which fed on grass and wild yellow grapes, to another part of the garden.

Two months passed. Qebba was neither happy nor unhappy. He fulfilled his duties, ate his meat and bread and slept in his allotted place. Occasionally he glanced at the doors of black lacquer with the white hands in them, but did not think to enter, did not really think of anything at all. Even now he would forget sometimes, loll his tongue, try to drag his hind limbs, as he had been forced to do when the tail of the lizard was fixed behind him.

One morning Kaschak summoned him and said:

Go to the black trees in the avenue, Qebba, and pluck a golden fruit.

Qebba turned to obey, then hesitated and said:

But master, you told me I was not to.

Then Kaschak laughed and went away. He had been trying Qebba, to see if he could trust him still. That afternoon he called Qebba again and said: Here is a golden sieve. Go to the second pool and fetch me wine-water in it.

Qebba did not argue this time. Though it was a sieve, if the magician demanded it to be filled, then filled it would be. And sure enough when Qebba dipped it in the second pool, none of the water ran out of the holes. He carried the sieve to Kaschak, and Kaschak smiled and said: As I thought, your years as an enchanted beast in the thraldom of demon-kind have installed in you some aptitude for thaumaturgy. Come now, you shall enter my workroom. It was a fact that Qebba had acquired unrealized powers, as the magician had suspected from the first. All his tasks had been a test. The circling bird was invisible to an ordinary human eye, the magic reed would not have ground to paste for any man. Under the feet of another, the glass roof would have smashed at the initial step, and few could shepherd the blue and white lions. As for the last test, who but one gifted with sorcery could hold fluid in a sieve?

So Qebba entered the chamber behind the doors of black lacquer.

A window was there that showed, not the garden beyond, but a hundred different places about the world, whichever the magician conjured to appear. The room was dark, yet everything in it might be seen. On a stand of brass stood the bleached skull of an ancient Magus, which could be made to talk when Kaschak required it. In a crystal jar with a stopper of agate was a tiny woman the size of a mans middle finger, and though she was tiny she was very fair and her hair was like a russet leaf folded about her. When Kaschak tapped the crystal she would dance lasciviously.

Amid these curiosities, Qebba began to learn strange arts, and Great Kaschak was his tutor. The manner of the teaching was bizarre, involving fast, fire, solitude and blood. Qebbas brain, slow in all else, moved swiftly at these lessons. And at his growing powers, a thrill ran through him. Yet always he looked to the magician for guidance, called him master, kissed his ruby ring and was grateful. He was the child, Kaschak the father. This pleased Kaschak. He foresaw innumerable possibilities in this apt pupil, without danger to himself. The gifts of Qebba, coupled with his ingenuous dullness and malleability, made him the most perfect and most useful aid and servant. He did whatever Kaschak asked, all but one thing.

Go, pluck a golden fruit in the avenue, said Kaschak.

Qebba answered: You told me I must not.

And Kaschak laughed.

But even the wise are foolish.

It was the third time Qebba had heard mention of the golden fruits. Once he had been young and happy and quick of mind. Now some buried thought stirred in him. That night he dreamed he plucked golden fruit galore, and it rained down upon him, and, as each fruit touched him, it felt like the warm kisses of a lovely girl, and the glow of gold was like the glow of her hair in lamplight.

Qebba woke with a cry, and, barely knowing what he did, he ran into the night-time garden, into the avenue of black trees, and reached up one hand and grasped what grew there glittering.

At once a snake appeared, wound in the branches, a spotted snake of crimson and green, which seized Qebbas hand in its jaws. But Qebba knew by now a spell to defeat beasts and flying things and reptiles, and this he spoke, and the snake withered and shrank into a twisted cord of green and red silk, and slid into the bushes.

Then Qebba grasped the fruit again, but this time it became as hot as fire and scorched him and he could not keep hold of it. But Qebba had learned a spell of cooling, and this he spoke and the fruit was cold once more.

Then Qebba took it in both hands, and tugged it, but the fruit would not come away from the tree. So Qebba spoke a spell of loosening, and the fruit fell.

Qebba examined the fruit as it lay on the blue grass of the lawn. He did not know what to do with it now it was picked. But after a moment he heard a rustle inside the fruit as if something moved there, and presently a sort of scratching as if something would come out.

Qebba became alarmed, but stronger than alarm now was a sense of urgency. Lamps were floating from the magicians house, floating in the air with no man to hold them up, and close behind, Kaschak would be walking, come to see what went on at midnight in his garden.

So Qebba spoke a spell of opening, and the golden fruit broke in two pieces, and from within them drifted a gauzy smoke.

Who would dare invite such a smoke? To some it might be healing, but to others, bane. Breathed in at the nostrils, it seemed to fill the eyes and ears and brain. To a man who knew many things, it would reveal many more, to a man who knew little it would reveal too much. Its name was self-knowledge.

Qebba breathed in this potion and staggered up, dropping the two pieces of the broken fruit, clutching at his skull. He had remembered everythinghis past, his name, his youth, his love, his loss, his direful sojourn in the hills of rockand he had reasoned that a hundred years were gone, that all he cared for had passed from the earth. He was alone, and cheated. He had borne the brunt of supernatural malice, without guilt. Men had mocked and reviled him, beaten, burned and cursed him. And now, even here, one sought to make a dolt of him. He had put aside Kaschaks justice, mislayed how he had reverenced him and felt calm in his presence as a frightened child found by its father. He thought simply that he had been duped once more. He knew himself, and he was brimmed with anger, hatred and a thirst to inflict hurt upon the world, as the world and its denizens had hurt him, poor Qebba, who would not own his former name even though he recalled it at last, poor Qebba weeping in the magicians garden.

The magician had come. His shadow fell slanting from the light of the floating lamps across the back of Qebbaone more burden that he would not bear.

Qebba started up, throwing off the shadow.

You sought to cheat me, Qebba cried. You have made me a worm, and laughed at me behind your sleeve. Once too often you mocked my foolishness. See, I have discovered it all. I am clever; you were careless to teach me so well. I am a magician too.

The magician Kaschak said a word that should have bound Qebba more tightly than rope, but Qebba writhed and spoke another word, and the spell slipped aside. Then Kaschak paled, and gnawed upon the large ruby in his ring. For sure, Qebba had learned excellently. Kaschak saw, belatedly, that he had been too certain the beast was tame.

Come, said Kaschak in an easy winning tone, your prowess pleases me. You were my servant, but shall be my brother. I saved you from a living death, do not be rash. This may turn out for the best.

But Qebba grimaced, showing his teeth. There was yet some wolf in him.

One deceived me before. He came by night, as you do, but him I did not see. I do not want the lying kindness and the gifts of men, nor of other than men. I am armed now. And he turned and strode away across the garden.

At that Kaschak was afraid, as he had not been afraid for a score of years. And, summoning his power, Kaschak flung a thunderbolt after his rogue apprentice, to slay him. But the smoke of self-knowledge had greatly heightened Qebbas abilities. He heard the thunderbolt and, spinning about, he flung one of his own, so the two met in the air and exploded with a blue flash. Qebba laughed. Now I know you fear me, said he, and he ran from the garden.

A single lion stood by the cliff gate, lashing with its tail and snarling. Qebba struck the lion dead with a shining lance he fashioned of air, and passed through the gate and on to the gravel beach. Despite his new-found skill, he had no power over the ocean, for the seas were of another kingdom than the earth, and had their own rulers and their own laws. But Qebba took from his belt a shaving of wood he had picked up, and tore a scrap of cloth from his sleeve, and said the applicable words, and threw them on the water. The cloth and the wood became a little ship and Qebba stepped into it and sailed away from the island.

And Kaschak watched him go in the magic window behind the lacquer doors, and his heart was full of anger and unquiet.

***

Qebba sailed seven days until he came on a rock in the sea, about the length of four men lying head to heel, and about the breadth of three men in the same attitude. Here, because beauty and comfort were forever soured for him, Qebba set up his home, sheltered by the point of the rock and certain arrangements of stone and cloth. For food he gnawed the sea wrack that grew there and fish that the tides washed up. When he thirsted he made rain fall from the sky into his cupped hands.

Then began a grim and deadly battle of two intent wills and two inventive minds. The strength of Kaschak lay in his mage-craft, but Qebbas ultimate strength lay in his unremitting, senseless, steely hate. As a man struck by misfortune will blindly turn and strike a chair or some other object to hand, so Qebba, unable to strike back across the years at what had truly injured him, now struck at his former master.

At first, Kaschak sought only to defend himself. The acts of Qebba were childish yet unpleasant. It rained black frogs upon Kaschaks garden, or red mud; tornadoes smashed against the cliffs, the sky grew dark from swarms of insects, flocks of ravenous predatory birds. But all these things Kaschak turned aside and made harmless, and nothing he sent back against his tormentor. Then there came a plague in the garden, an invisible worm that ate the pink willow trees from within, blighted the exquisite roses, clotted the wine pools with disgusting scum. Kaschak restored his garden and drove out the invisible worm. He put seals and safeguards next over every inch of ground. Not a mote of dust could enter now. Kaschak sat before the magic window in his workroom, and he found in it the island where Qebba lay brooding. The face of Qebba had become greenish with hate, and his eyes had sunk back in hollows like two malevolent animals into their caves. His teeth were yellow and sharp from gnawing seaweed and the bones of fish, yellow and sharp as when he had had the head of a wolf. One of his legs too had become paralyzed, from lack of exercise on the narrow isle and the dank weather. And he dragged the leg while he moved, as once he had dragged the lizards tail. But his heart, like the heart of the boar, was tough and lasting.

Kaschak tried many ways to be rid of his enemy, He sent storms to overwhelm the rock, but Qebba thrust them back. Kaschak sent a phantom woman who bared her loins and shook out her ruddy hair, but all lusts but one were dead in Qebba; he flung stones till she vanished. Kaschak sent a levin-bolt of enormous magnitude, which split the toy island in two. But Qebba reappeared on the larger part of it, grinning.

The two magicians had reached an impasse. Kaschak spoke to Qebba through the magic window: Let us cease this wrangling. What do you want from me?

Your life, said Qebba. His sunken eyes gleamed with his hate. Your life and the life of the world. My powers are expanding. I will see to it. None shall be happy, for I was never happy. None shall live, for I never had a chance at life. None shall love, save in the grave, for that is where my lover couches.

Then Kaschak saw it was no use. Kaschak was angry, but his anger was not like the hating grinning anger of Qebba. Kaschaks anger was leaden, and he was also afraid.

Kaschak called four gales, and from the four hems of the four vast garments of them, he made a supernatural net of interwoven boiling strands. Next, Kaschak, by his arts, asked a parley with one of the lords of the sea. How the lord came is not recorded, but perhaps he was blue-skinned and his hair was a stream of salt water, and his company like him, and perhaps they rode chariots of coral drawn by teams of the huge black and white sharks, the killers of men. Maybe their eyes were circles of gold about a horizontal blue pupil, as with certain creatures of the deep, and maybe they grew impatient, finding the air of earth stifled them, and their slender scaled fingers, bright with jewels spilled from drowned human ships, fidgeted with the chains of little glass bowls in which gemmy fish, their pet canaries, flitted and sang in voices only the sea-folk could hear.

At any rate, a bargain was struck. A ring of oceanic magic was made to surround Qebbas minuscule rock, and no escape or sending could get by it, as it could not get by the net of gales aloft. And in return for this service, Kaschak would throw a fine jewel into the sea each year, on a certain day. And as long as Kaschak kept his part of the bargain, the sea lord would keep his.

Thus, for the second time in his wretched existence, Qebba was imprisoned. His spells were impotent, his rage turned in upon itself.

To begin with, he ranted and screamed at the insubstantial yet impervious walls of the trap, but the scream of the gales was louder. He also tried to make a bargain with the oceans people, but in that he had no hope, having no resources, nothing to offer, and the ocean stayed dumb. At last he was weary and lay down on his face on the slimy rock among the sea wrack, and did not move again.

Only his brain worked. It gnawed inward, like a rat. His brain was all hate. Hate devoured him. It reached his heart and soul. His hate had nowhere to travel now, it could not escape. So, like any large force contained, it began to ferment, to seethe.

Time passed. Kaschak lived to a prodigious age. He performed many wonders, and was much esteemed. And every year, on a certain day, he would cast a jewel into the sea. He never forgot. Then one night, in his twentieth decade, Kaschak smiled, bored at length with living, and died. And that year no jewel was sent to the sea lord, and the sea lord accepted the pact as finished, and the magic fence about Qebbas rock dispersed.

But surely Qebba had not lived so long, devoid of nourishment, of space, of activity. The pseudo immortality, the life the monsters skin had lent him, had been amputated with the skin itself. No, Qebba could not live still, and did not. Indeed, his very flesh had vanished from the rock, his bones had even blended with it, were no more.

Yet something remained, something which would not die. The thing which had seethed, bubbled and intensified here in its prison: Qebbas unmitigated, deathless, starving hate.

Which could now get free.

***





3. Night s Sorcery | Night's Master | 5. A Ship with Wings